Fresno State will conclude its series of 15 spring practices Saturday with its Spring Showcase, but among a number of position groups the next month and a half could prove vital in player development.
After returning from spring break, the players get a discretionary week before starting an intense four-week program that will be heavy in lifting and speed work.
“Any time you’re young, obviously mass and strength are going to be huge and we’re going to have a good concentrated period where they’re going to get a chance to really crank that up,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “The other thing that I think is really good is (strength and condition coach Joey Boese) does a great job (with) mental-toughness training. We’ll be lifting four days a week, we’ll be running a couple days a week, so we’ll do some of the dynamic stuff, the speed stuff.
“But a lot of stuff he does is just mental-toughness training and having guys come together as a group. Especially for a young group, that’s what we need (this summer). We’ve seen it this spring. We have a bunch of guys that like to compete. I like the chemistry of this team and between now and August we have to continue to develop that chemistry.”
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The physical development will be paramount for the Bulldogs, who this season have games against Power Five conference programs on the road at Mississippi and home against Utah. Last season they did not match up well physically, losing at USC, at Utah and to Nebraska by a combined 166-59. The closest of those was the Utah game, which Fresno State lost 59-27.
Fresno State will have a number of young players in the two-deep or competing for a spot on the list that need to add size and strength, not only to match up better against the best nonconference and Mountain West opponents but also simply to get through the grind of a college football season.
“When we come back we’re going to lift hard and try to get our guys as strong as they can get,” Boese said.
Fresno State in 2015 will have 14 returning starters, but only 29 returning lettermen. Last season among Mountain West teams, San Diego State had the fewest lettermen back with 35; nine of 12 schools in the conference had at least 40.
“Chad Olsen played at 225 last fall — we’d love for him to be 240 where he is at now,” DeRuyter said of the Bulldogs tight end. “But it wouldn’t hurt if he could gain another five or 10 of good muscle between now and August. Those are the kind of things that we’re looking for — taking that next step.
“KeeSean (Johnson, a redshirt freshman receiver) is a guy, he has gained a lot of weight since he has been here, but he needs another 15. I don’t know that he will get there by this fall. Chason (Virgil) is a guy, he has gained eight pounds since he has been here. If we can get another eight on him before fall … those kinds of things I think are really important for a young guy so that they can withstand the rigors of getting through the season. It’s different at this level with the big bodies chasing them. They have to be able to withstand it.”
Quarterback play and the development of third-year sophomore Zack Greenlee, redshirt freshman Kilton Anderson and the true freshman Virgil will be the primary focus Saturday as the Bulldogs scrimmage to close out spring ball.
All three have moved forward, but have yet to run a play in front of anyone other than coaches, teammates, staffers and, on occasion, a family member or two.
DeRuyter and offensive coordinator Dave Schramm are not going to name a starting quarterback until the fall, but know they need improvement after ranking ninth in the Mountain West in passing efficiency at 113.71 (Colorado State led at 164.52), 11th in interceptions with 21 (only UNLV had more with 22) and last in yards per passing attempt at 5.9 (Colorado State led at 9.4).
“I’m excited to see how our quarterbacks will handle things because at times you get in a live situation, with a crowd especially, it gives you an indicator whether they’re maturing the way you want them to and in that moment can they get it done,” DeRuyter said. “Can they make good decisions, take care of the football and lead and move the team? I’ll be anxious to see that.”
The Spring Showcase, which is open to the public, will start with the scrimmage at 10:30 a.m. Afterward, players and coaches will be available for autographs and will host a clinic for youths in the eighth grade and younger. There will be four stations set up to teach the fundamentals of tackling, running ball skills and blocking.